I have just returned home from an intense two-day training called Bringing Baby Home. Sound interesting? It really was. I’m looking forward to sharing what I learned with you. Even if your baby is already born and you are past the, “wonder” of birth, you may be wondering what you have gotten yourselves into.
Did you know there is research about that? There is. John Gottman and his colleagues saw a trend in the research they were doing with couples. Within three years of a baby’s birth their research showed a severe drop in marital happiness with an increase in conflict and hostility. This led them to intensively study couples before, during, and after having a baby. That research enabled them to predict, with great accuracy, which couples would be happy and which would not. Based on these findings, Bringing Baby Home has proven to be very successful in increasing the number of happy couples. The babies of these couples learned better and were happier too.
Over the months ahead I will be sharing parts of what I have learned. Gottman’s findings confirmed what we have already been teaching about healthy marital relationships. The new information is how the addition of a baby affects the couples’ relationship and the effects this has on the baby long term.
I will be sharing ways to help you and your spouse cope constructively with the changes brought about with the birth of a child. Pregnancy and delivery are just the start of the journey into parenting. So no matter how far along that road you are, there are steps you can take to strengthen your friendship and improve the outcome of your conflicts.
Here are some of the reasons why the birth of a baby causes so much unhappiness when it should be the beginning of one of the happiest parts of your life as a couple.
- Identities change- women are now a mother as well as daughter, wife, etc. Men are now a father as well as son, husband, etc.
- Time must be spent differently.
- Values change towards work, finances, free-time, etc.
- Sex and intimacy change.
- Communication often decreases or becomes more stressful.
- Some fathers withdraw and some moms rely more on female relationships for support.
- Sleep deprivation is common.
- Exhaustion and depression add stress.
Gottman describes the couples who succeed in these adaptations as “masters” and those who fail as “disasters.”
The goal is to help you be among the masters at integrating your baby into your family life.
The concepts I will be sharing are important throughout a couple’s relationship. The motto of the teaching is “small things often.” We completely agree. There is no one big thing that will ensure happiness. It is the small acts of kindness, small acts of understanding, and small acts of conflict regulation every day that will make a difference over time. The goal is to incorporate these skills into your daily life. That will make positive changes in your relationship. These small steps bring larger rewards over time as you continue your journey through life.
For this month, the first step to deepening your friendship is to know your spouse better by being aware of and learning their likes and dislikes, preferences, daily activities, hobbies, life dreams and history. You may have known each other well before your marriage and even through the first year or so after the wedding. But we all change over time. We face new challenges, try new things, and have reasons to change our opinions. But many couples quit making the effort to keep learning about their mate. You must stay curious and reconnect often in order to build the basis of your friendship.
So, your challenge this month is to take a few minutes each day to ask each other an open-ended question and really listen to the answer. Open-ended questions are ones that cannot be answered with just “yes” or “no” or a statement of fact. These are questions that call for some thought and require more detailed responses. But they are not meant to be threatening. If a question causes too much tension, move on to a different one.
You can ask your questions over a meal, or while you are on your way somewhere together, or even in a few minutes before bed. Make an effort to learn something new about your spouse every day. You will be amazed at how this will help you to think more positively about your spouse.
Here are just a few samples to get you started:
- What was your favorite childhood toy?
- Do you want our child to have a pet? How did having or not having a pet when you were young affect your opinion?
- What is one way I could show my love for you that I’m not doing or not doing enough?
- What is your fantasy vacation?
- Who is the most stressful person in your life? Why?
- What was the best part of your day?
Now there’s just one warning about this exercise. Do not use this as an opportunity to hurt or reprimand your mate. Do not start an argument because of what you hear. If the answer makes you uncomfortable, think about it for a while. Perhaps you need to ask some more questions to understand better. You may need to apologize for something you did or said. You may want to change the way you do something. Let your spouse know you heard what they said and are willing to talk some more or to make adjustments.
We’ll get to much more about dealing with conflict in the months ahead. For now, try learning some small thing often about your spouse. You will be building your foundation of friendship. Everything else we’ll discuss is built on this base of friendship.
Now how does all that apply to being the best possible parents for your child? While you’re learning about your spouse, learn something new every day about your baby by observation. How does he or she react to noise and new tastes and smiles? What is your baby’s attitude to strangers and being alone and to touch? How active is your baby and at what time of the day or night? Share these insights with your baby’s dad or mom. These will help you build a foundation for your shared relationship with your baby. We’ll also talk more about this another month.
See the next article in this series, Baby Expressions.